By Janan Buisier
Dallas takes care of its homeless, and has the numbers to prove it: The city has seen a three percent decline in its homeless population so far this year, dropping to 3,447, compared to 3,540 in 2011, according to the 2012 Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Census. The annual study is conducted by The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), a private alliance and membership organization – its mission is to end and prevent homelessness.
Officials from local churches and homeless shelters say they are providing food, healthcare, and housing to help reduce homelessness. The number of people living in permanent supportive housing increased 578 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to the Point-in-Time survey. But homeless advocates say more should be done. “We feed people all day long. There’s multiple spots throughout the city where people can go get meals,” said Amy Trail, director of client services at the Austin Street Centre on Hickory Street in Dallas. But while the homeless receive support, and the numbers of those provided housing continues to increase, most people don’t receive much when they are on the verge of homelessness, Trail and others say. “You literally have to go through a ringer and lose your life, and everything before people go, ‘ok, now let’s help you,’ ” Trail said.
The Austin Street Centre is one of the best-known shelters in the Dallas area. It can accommodate up to 470 individuals. Nearly 390 people currently live there, according to Trail. The center receives many people with mental illness and chronic disabilities. “All that one needs to get into the door is a picture ID,” said Trail, who has worked at the shelter for about 10 months. She has discovered while working at the center that no one is going hungry.
David Tischner, who lost his job in 2011, has been homeless for about a year and a half. He is currently staying at the Austin Street Centre, but said he has been sleeping outside recently to enjoy the nice weather. He’s received numerous services, including meals from the Centre and other shelters in Dallas, such as The Bridge, on Corsicana Street.“I’ve received more since I’ve become homeless, than I have anywhere,” Tischner said in a recent interview.
When he first joined the homeless community, he lost all forms of identification. With the help of Stewpot, a resource center for the homeless founded by First Presbyterian Church (located on Park Avenue), and The Bridge, he was able to retrieve all of his paper work. Tischner says the homeless community not only receives food and shelter, they are also provided healthcare from Metrocare and LifeNet, nonprofit organizations devoted to helping individuals with illnesses. If someone is homeless, he or she is eligible to receive free medical care, hospitalization and prescriptions. “I have a few health problems,” he said, “and I’ve discovered that there is so much help here, that you don’t have to go without anything.”
Starlight Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, located on Cedar Crest Boulevard, is one of the churches in Dallas that recognizes the importance of helping the homeless. They sponsored three feeding programs during the past summer alone. “It is very important that we help people that are in need.” Pastor James A. Williams said. “We have a large amount of people that are in need in that area.”
Pastor Williams has seen growth in his church because of the services it offers. Through its ministry, it has helped reunite individuals with their families and get them off the streets. Church officials concentrate on feeding and clothing the homeless. The pastor believes that it is essential for Christian and non-profit organizations to continue helping the homeless. “We do bible studies, teaching and training, plus feeding programs,” Williams said.
Cornerstone Baptist Church in South Dallas is another church that contributes to the homeless community. The church is recognized for offering housing for those in need, and providing them with food. “We do eight meals a weak, through what we call a Cornerstone Kitchen. It is a converted liquor store that the church was able to purchase, and do meals out for the homeless,” Chris Simmons, a pastor from Cornerstone Baptist Church on Luther King Junior Boulevard, said.
Still, Trail and other homeless officials believe that the city should take preventative measures to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. She says they have to hit rock bottom before getting any kind of attention. “Let’s have someone go in and figure out how you can keep your job, instead of penalizing someone for getting caught abusing substances on their job,” Trail said. “How about we send you to treatment and still have your job waiting when you’re finished, so we don’t have to hire someone new.”